The Tricky Trio may have lost a member with Jalen Suggs off to the NBA after being selected with the fifth pick of the NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic, but that doesn’t mean anyone should sleep on the remaining pair from that talented troika.
Julian Strawther arrived in Spokane ranked as the No. 62 high school player in the ESPN Top 100 for the class of 2020, and throughout his freshman campaign flashed the skills that earned him that ranking—albeit in a limited role. Now entering his sophomore season, Gonzaga will be counting on Strawther to make the leap from brief cameos to a rock solid member of the rotation.
The sophomore wing won’t have to look too far down his own roster to find someone else—Drew Timme—who successfully made that second-year leap. Of course, that comparison may be a bit unfair. Timme played a much larger role during his freshman season than Strawther, and thus was better positioned to take his game to the next level by building off significantly more experience than his younger teammate garnered last year. However, the blue print is there and Strawther certainly has the ability to significantly increase his production in a bigger role for the team.
Where Strawther could really help the Zags is to help fill some of the void left by Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi a perimeter threat, which is an even more unfair expectation than trying to replicate Timme’s sophomore leap referenced above. Kispert was a generational shooter who earned a starting spot as a freshman, and finished his career as one of the great Zags in the Mark Few era. But his departure leaves Gonzaga with a dearth of perimeter shooting that needs to be replaced.
Strawther finished the 2020-21 season shooting “only” 32.1% from the three-point line in 28 attempts, but his stroke on the perimeter looked better and better as the season moved along and he was shooting a pretty ball by the end of the season that makes me believe in his ability to improve those numbers in the upcoming campaign. In his last 13 appearances, Strawther went 8-15 from the three-point line as his confidence and comfort grew. It’s not reasonable to expect Strawther to continue converting at that clip over the course of a season and against better defenses than what he faced in some of his appearances when the outcome was long decided, but he certainly looks like he has the shooting stroke to be better than a 32% producer from the arc, and he showed in high school that he has the scoring mentality and ability to be a go-to option.
If Strawther can bump his three-point shooting percentages up a few points and threaten the 40% threshold while increasing his output, similar to what Ayayi produced last year (38.9% on 37-95 shooting from 3PT), that would significantly help Gonzaga shore up what is the team’s primary weakness heading into the season and earn him a much larger role in the rotation when coupled with his length and potential to be a disruptor on the boards and in the passing lanes.
We saw a lot to like from Strawther in his 186 minutes of game action last year, but for Gonzaga to return to the Final Four he will need to turn his enormous potential to production. I’m confident that he will.